Can a person be illegal? According to immigrant rights activists, no. Only their activities can be called legal or illegal.
And last year, the Associated Press (followed later by other U.S. news organizations) AGREED with those people and decided to change how they refer to people who enter a country without documentation.
Just the other day, my friend Corin and I were having a conversation on this topic. Like most of us, she wanted to show sensitivity to the situation of others but said it’s hard to know what to say. From that, I developed a simple guideline for your future conversations.
The primary thing to understand is people and actions are separate.
Therefore, a PERSON
- is undocumented
- is without papers
- overstayed his/her visa
- doesn’t have official status
On the other hand, a PERSON’S STATUS or ENTRY
- is illegal (or is legal)
For example: Raymond came to the U.S. illegally when he was in high school, but now he’s a naturalized American citizen.
- came here legally (or illegally)
For example: Christiana entered legally on a student visa, but she stayed on past the expiration date after she met her future husband.
So, to review:
- People ENTER illegally (see “enter” is an action verb), but
- People ARE undocumented. (“be” is a non-action verb)
I hope this helps your future conversations. Let us know if you have other questions, and we’ll try to answer them in future segments of What’s Up?